When a missing persons case leads to a secret stash of millions, Marly Jackson P.I. is hot on the trail. 


The Case Of the Missing Millionaire takes her deep into a world where sin sells for any price, and every friend is foe. Evading mobsters, a killer, and the FBI, Marly teams with her ex-lover Finn, a retired police captain, a deviant heiress, and a former whore to find the truth in a sea of sex, lies, and betrayal. 


When passions run hot, Marly Jackson must keep her cool to win the ultimate prize…survival. 


Preview 

Chapter One

The Stranger


I didn’t trust him. He was gorgeous; six feet three inches of pure beefcake, his brown wavy hair perfectly sculpted and sun-light at edges, his green eyes showing surprising intelligence for such a beautiful arrangement of bones. His skin was too tan for a Chicago November, beautifully covering a structure speaking of wild snow-dwelling ancestors.

He was a beautiful lying sack of shit, and it was my job to figure out why.

“You want me to find your boss?” I asked again for the tenth time. Old cop trick; keep asking the same question until they change their story. Seven years off the force and the habits didn’t die, no matter how far down the toilet my career had gone.

“Yes! Now will you take the case or not?”

I looked him over. Brooks Brothers black suit, starched white shirt in an old Reilly collar, his tie was loose, pure silk, and creased-new. The only skin visible was his face and hands, and the hands told a story his eyes never could. The left one had three busted knuckles, barely healed over, the wounds made from punching something or someone hard, repeatedly, and in the last twelve hours. The fingers also curled strangely, like smashing into things was an old habit matching a few scars.

My guess was this missing woman was his sugar momma, and he used her as a Bobo doll. She’d had enough and took off, and now his meal ticket had skipped town. Wouldn’t be the first time, though he was certainly the best-dressed kept man that had darkened my door.

Normally I would have sent a lying sack of shit running, but this had the potential to be the most exciting case to date of my career as a PI. This had the promise of big money and sex, and I was bored enough to dig deeper.

“Well, Ms. Jackson?” he asked and I just kept my level gaze on him, making him sweat.

“Call me Marly,” I said automatically, waiting, watching him squirm.

He was a bit too classy for my office, busted knuckles or no. Oh, the wood was old and real, the books numerous, but the floor was peeling black & white vinyl tiles, and years of cigarette and cigar smoke turned the white walls a slightly off color. I’d covered one water stain with a George Tooker print. What the hell, I thought, deciding to take the case. I needed a few new things around the office and he looked like he might have some money.

“What’s her full name?” I asked and pulled a notepad and pen from my desk, pushing aside the Sunday Tribune and the article on the latest WTC cleanup efforts. I found the pad more personal than clacking on a computer keyboard while a client was talking, and my desktop computer was old and frankly embarrassing.

“Mary Beth Anderson.” Something about that tickled my memory, but nothing came immediately to mind. Getting my computer to Google would have to wait, on an old Pentium 2 the journey was like sailing from Madagascar to Sweden. However, he said it like I should know, and I knew he’d thrown her name around before.

Sighing, I took the bait. “Where do I know that name?”

He frowned in distaste. “She’s one of the heads of the Historical Landmarks Preservation Society, she’s in the paper pretty often, and she’s a very famous millionaire.” 

The last word breathed across my skin like a lover’s touch. Money; I didn’t have enough of it, was always losing it, and desperately needed more of it. 

“Those Frank Lloyd Wright psychos?” I hedged, trying not to tip my hand. Last I’d heard one of Louis Sullivan’s churches had burned down and they were under suspicion, being that Sullivan fans and Wright fans never got along. 

His lips twisted into a wry smile. “They’ve been called worse.” 

“Where does her money come from?”

“The old fashioned way. She was born into it and married more.”

“Still married?” 

“Me?”

Looking up I snorted. “Anderson.”

“Yes.”

I stopped writing and sat back, chewing on my pencil and wishing for a cigarette. I didn’t normally take cases on Sundays but this honeypot had shown up at my door knocking until I stumbled out of bed hung over to let him in. “Why isn’t her husband here?”

“He’s in Europe on business. He’s a developer, works a lot of remote sites. I have his secretary trying to reach him but she says he’s unreachable.”

Hmm. “So what do you do for Mrs. Anderson?” I looked him up and down and got a pretty graphic idea.

“I handle her personal affairs for her…this seems to be a personal affair.”

The way he said affair was just the right level of flirtation, and I had to resist snorting again. “Did you file a police report, Mr. Roberts?”

He hesitated long enough I knew the name wasn’t the one on his driver’s license. “No,” he drawled at last, shaking his head and worrying his tie, proving he was most a blue collar boy playing dress up. “Look, she wouldn’t want this getting out; she wouldn’t want the world to look into her personal life. I need discretion here.”

“How long have you been fucking Mary Beth Anderson?” I asked jotting notes on my pad, casually dropping the bomb that I hopped would finally rattle his cage.

He slammed his large hands on the desk making the ancient wood and me jump. “I wasn’t fucking her! It’s not like that! You have to find her! You have to find her fast!”

He’d been lying about a lot, but that seemed genuine. “She have an expiration date?”

“What?”

“Why the urgency?”

“She never goes missing. I handle all her travel plans, and I got nothing. She didn’t use her credit card, can’t find her on any plane or train. She has a house in Florida but it’s empty.”

“She into drugs?”

“Not really. They’re there at parties, but she can easily afford it.”

“She fucking around on you, sparky?”

“I am not fucking her! It’s not like that!”

Jaded as I was, I had to wonder why he seemed so resistant to the idea. Maybe she was ancient, or fat, or perhaps he was gay. I sighed; it’d be a waste. 

Nonplussed, I returned to scribbling. “And what’s the nature of her personal affairs?” He didn’t respond and I looked up to see him staring at the picture of me in uniform with Mayor Daley sitting on the shelves behind me. A postcard from my college roommate covered up the person next to me and the Mayor, and it seemed to puzzle him. 

I snapped my fingers rudely, pulling his attention back to me. “Mr. Roberts? What did you do for Mary Beth Anderson?”

“I was a, um, an assistant.” He was hedging, holding something back.

I set the pad down and leaned back in my chair. “Mr. Roberts I’m afraid I can’t take this case.”

His face was a picture of stark fear and panic. “But you have to, you’re the only one I can trust. Finnegan said you would do this!”

My left eye twitched at Finn’s name, the bastard covered by the postcard in the picture. We’d been partners at the CPD as beat cops before either of us made detective, and though we’d never been the most straight, upright uniforms, I hadn’t turned to a life of crime when we left the force. I also hadn’t said more to him than a casual “fuck off” since 1997. 

“Michael Finnegan is a fence and an asshole. Do yourself a favor, Mr. Roberts, if that is your real name. Stop hanging around people like Michael Finnegan and Mary Beth Anderson. Get a job in construction, find a nice girl in Lincoln Park, and settle down to make pretty little vapid babies.”

“Fifty thousand dollars,” he said, ignoring the slur, and I knew from the tremor in his deep voice that was all he had to give. He couldn’t negotiate for shit.

I liked money. A lot. With that kind of dough I could get new computers, fix up my car, paint the damn walls at long last, and get a better pull-out couch. “Sold, but you have to give me something.”

His body stiffened but his eyes mellowed, telegraphing liquid sex. Not gay, but a pro…interesting. “Anything,” he husked.

I pushed my glasses up my nose, well aware I did not generate that response in men like him when I dressed two sizes too large and wore only my hangover as an accessory. “I want the truth.”

The seduction turned off with a switch so fast he it confirmed he was a pro. How do I know you won’t tell the cops?”

I snorted. “I don’t deal with cops anymore, that’s why I went private. It’s easier to shoot people.”

Those green eyes widened. “Really?”

It was, but I shook my head. The story of why I’d left the force was a little complicated, and he didn’t need to know. “No. So, going to drop the act?"

Finally he sat leaned back in the rickety wood-slat chair in front of my desk and sighed, his posture relaxing. “Fine. I entertained some friends of hers.”

“On their backs?” I said calmly and he blushed deeply, jerking a nod.

“What did you get out of it?”

“A salary, a place to live, everything I wanted. Three nights a week I entertained, the rest of the time I was free to do whatever I wanted.”

“And you never entertained Mrs. Anderson?” Again, he shook his head. “How many other ‘entertainers’ worked with you?”

“I think there might have been others, but I never met them, heard their names, anything. I’m not sure if there were any current, or if I was the just the latest.”

I stared at him, judging. There was a lie in there somewhere, but too many choices to narrow down easily. “Why on earth would she arrange this?”

“She liked to watch.” He blushed.

The blush surprised me. “How?”

“Everyone knew about it, we made tapes for her. Mary Beth was big on watching.”

“Everyone? I thought you didn’t know those other ‘entertainers’ you mentioned.”

“All right, there probably were, she had a lot of DVDs, but I never met them. I spent most of my days with her and they never showed up. I don’t think anyone took her, I think she ran from something, I just don’t know what.”

It made sense. She was his meal ticket and she’d skipped town, all right. “How much is she worth?”

“I assume millions, I don’t know. I never handled her finances.”

“She have any money of her own, or was it all daddy’s and her husband’s?”

“She couldn’t skim anything without them noticing, and it would take time. She disappeared this morning, last night I spoke to her, then she was gone.”

“Give me a few minutes.” I turned on the desktop at last. “Want something to drink?” Maybe some alcohol in his system would loosen that silver tongue.

“What have you got?”

I got up and walked to the small bar housed on a middle shelf of the bookcase on the far wall between the windows. I was down to Jameson’s, soda, and a single finger’s worth of vodka. I sighed. No tequila, the drink I found best for getting what you wanted out of people. “You like whiskey?”

“Sure.”

I poured two glasses and looked out the window. It was a quiet part of town, the north side of Uptown, and traffic moved freely on a Sunday afternoon. I looked for his car and couldn’t see anything nice, just two battered early American models and a half-rusted Civic hatchback.

“Here,” I passed him one and before I could toast he knocked it back. Raising my eyebrow I sat down, waiting for my browser to load.

At long last I could search for Mary Beth Anderson. Pages of hits, something only reserved for real names. Search mine and you’d get shit other than when I finally legally changed my name from Marlene to Marly, and possibly a footnote on the case that had got me thrown off the force, though my godfather had worked hard to keep it out of the papers. 

She was a member of the Wilmette Yacht Club, a Northshore millionaires-only joint, and worked hard to promote Chicago as a fashion center as well as canonize Frank Lloyd Wright, a frivolous and silly-at-best pastime. 

She was married to a man who made millions in land deals here and abroad, was five years her senior, and seemed spotless. Most mentions of her involved events and parties, but there was something about her giving a graduation speech at her high school, mentioning a Harvard MBA. Not a cookie-cutter trophy wife after all.

Then I saw something which made my heart stutter. Her father was Alfred Sorvino, the notorious mobster who had waged a bloody war in the early 80’s to carve out a piece of the South Loop for territory. 

This explained Roberts’ fear need for discretion. Sorvino’s specialty was protection, fire insurance activation, and body dumps in Crystal Lake or the Cal-Sag Canal. Daddy was a factor I wouldn’t bring up if he didn’t, so I closed the page quickly and only scribbled down notes to the effect of “stay the fuck away from Sorvino.”

The man who pretended to be Timothy Roberts fingered the cheap glass and watched my eyebrows ratchet up. “What did you do?”

“I Googled her. Busy social life, hocking fashion and preserving old buildings, and she’s a got an MBA and everything. The plastic surgery seems minimal. Not a bad score when you shop around for a sugar momma.”

He pursed his lips. “Fashion was a hobby, she thought it was glamorous, but it’s a lot of hard work. Her bread and butter is preservation.” 

“Busy work.”

Roberts nodded.

“How was she paying your salary?”

“The women paid for it.”

“So she was your pimp.”

He gave me a look of smoldering rage at that word but said nothing. It was true.

I looked him over, and he let me. My sexual partners were few and far between, mostly men I picked up at the Purple Rose.  If Roberts had walked into the club instead of my office I would have bought him a beer and asked him home. He seemed All-American, clean cut, a little rough around the edges, the kind of guy a woman could use for a night and not have to worry about overmuch. 

Here, the dim fluorescents of my office showed a tired, panicked whore whose pimp had disappeared.

“I find it hard to believe she’d pimp you out to her friends and never ask for a freebie.”

Again he blushed, very strange for a man who sport-fucked for a living. “It wasn’t like that; she wasn’t really a pimp, and I am not a whore.”

“Past tense…is this still going on?”

“It stopped a couple months back, these days I just sit around her place and take notes, sort through her invitations. She has a fetish, a weird one, she likes to watch. She has enough tapes to keep her satisfied for a long while, so my job is easy.”

“Suppose one of these women objected and Mary Beth took off?”

“They paid for it, they agreed to it. None of the women involved would ever threaten her, they’re her friends.”

I snorted again. “Where I come from if a person has sex for money they’re a whore, the person who manages them is a pimp, and the customers are johns. None of them are friends.”

“I was her…whatever the male equivalent of a mistress is. It’s not the same. Look, yes, my job was originally to bring her pleasure, but Mary Beth is different. Watching is the only thing that gives her pleasure.”

“A kinky bent and more money doesn’t change it, Mr. Roberts. A mistress usually has sex with whoever keeps her, if she or he has sex with others for money, that’s prostitution.”

His blush deepened. “Mary Beth i- she is…different! If she didn’t watch she couldn’t…”

“No need to stutter, I heard you the first time. Did she let you fuck whoever you wanted?” He blushed darker and shook his head. “So she called the shots? Voyeurs are not usually so picky.” I knew that pretty well. I liked to watch too, and I never kept regular partners for that kind of play, it was too risky.

“I don’t understand it, but I respected her wishes.”

I sat back and chewed my pen. This was getting interesting. “She disabled or something?” I looked back to the computer. She seemed like a typically spry, rich 40-something, ten years older than me, but well-preserved surgically. She had a medium build and olive-toned skin. Eerily she kind of reminded me of a posh version of pictures of my mother.

I sighed. “Was she sexually dysfunctional?”

He shrugged, and I realized I hadn’t said it as quietly to myself as planned. “Just kinky then,” I drawled, watching him closely. No blush now. Interesting.

“Look, do you think I did something to her and then hired you? Are you insane?”

The tie was almost completely off, revealing a very tan throat. I could see what Mary Beth saw in him, hell I’d pay to watch him fuck as well, but if I’d been in her shoes I would have fucked him myself too.

“You know who her people are,” I said hedged. “If I was in your shoes and, say an accident happened, I’d want as many bodies between me and them as possible.”

That tan noticeably paled. “Her father has nothing to do with this. He can’t know anything. She’s his only child, if he loses her…everyone she’s ever met will be dead.” Me in particular was written between his lines.

“Apples don’t fall far from the tree. Suppose her husband works for daddy. Suppose she threw the wrong contract her husband’s way. Suppose one of these ladies objected to being watched. There’s too many possibilities here, I’ll need at least six weeks to figure this out.”

Panic gripped him. “I need to find her ASAP. I’m really worried about her. Look, I can vouch for the club, no one hurt her. Her husband is clean, and her father knows nothing. Mary Beth has worked hard to make sure of that.”

Switching gears, I pulled out my cigarettes and lit one, sitting back with the notepad. I’d been wanting one since he walked in oozing sex from every pore, and it was now helping the blood to flow back to my brain. “Tell me about the last time you saw her.”

“Friday night when I helped her get ready for a party. Yesterday afternoon she called, asked for a meeting at nine p.m., but when I showed up her place was locked tight, not even the live-in maid was there. I called her, her friends, I even called her husband’s secretary…no one had heard from her in two days. I called some people from the party Friday night and apparently she’d never shown, they said she hadn’t even accepted an invitation.”

That screamed a planned disappearance, but why call him over the next day? “Thanksgiving is next week, maybe she went to visit family.”

He shook his head. “Her family is all here. Look, she’s not the type to call me and then take off. Something is wrong here. I need to know where she is. I need her back.” He rubbed his face with both hands.

“Need her that bad, do you?” I asked sarcastically.

“I do,” he replied curtly and didn’t elaborate. “Do you think you can find her in the next twenty-four hours?”

My gut clenched. That was a tall order even when you knew where the missing person was headed. Here I had nothing, and this was starting to smell like a murder case.

“Just what happens then?”

“I figure we have until tomorrow night before her father starts sniffing around.”

Then the hammer would come down, and if I took the case, my head was under it too. “I’m going to need more than fifty grand if I have to sweat a mobster.”

“I’ll do what I can, if you get Mary Beth back safe I’ll make sure she pays you.”

“She better not be spending all her dough on drugs and other hot young men on some tropical island.”

He began to fidget in the chair. “She’s not like that. Watching is her only vice.”

“Let’s talk facts. I need to know her enemies, her friends, her specs too. Fill this form out.” I opened a drawer and passed him a three page mini-booklet and pen. I tried to keep everything present tense but it was a ploy; millionaires never go missing, they just died.

“All of this?” he asked and I nodded. 

I took a long pull from my Camel and saw him watch me blow the smoke out slowly. “You mind?” I asked mockingly.

“No. Can I have one?”

“Finish the booklet first.”

His eyes softened, and this was what I was pushing for. When his hand went to the booklet which lay near my own hand, he attempted to touch me and I jerked back. To cover I tossed him a cigarette and scooted my chair back.

While he filled the booklet out I flipped through my day planner to see where I was at with my open cases. Goody goody, two cheating cases and a case of worker’s comp fraud. That night it was surveillance on a cheater. 

After ten long minutes he passed me back the paper and to my surprise his handwriting was neat, his grammar excellent, everything spoke of decent breeding, clashing with that bruised hand. “Let me ask you, how does a guy like you end up banging this kind of gong?”

He slumped, the weight of memory suddenly on his shoulders. “Same way anybody does. What made you become a cop?” 

Well that answered nothing, and was artfully well done. “Better question is what made me join the PI racket.”

“Fair enough Ms. Jackson; why did you become a PI?”

“You’ll see.” I smiled and looked the booklet over. Mary Beth Anderson was only thirty-nine, healthy, five ten, had fake breasts and teeth and lips, and yes, her highlighted-blonde hair was artificial too. The list of enemies was short; a few social rivals and a group of people who were fans of Louis Sullivan and blamed Anderson’s group for the earlier fire of Sullivan’s church.

The list of friends was five names long and three had dots next to them. “What are the dots?” I asked.

“Those are her friends, the ones I was…with. The rest weren’t close friends, more associates, people she only sees every now and again socially.”

I matched the list to the page I had pulled up on Google. He’d missed a name of a close friend, and since he worked closely with Mary Beth I knew that omission was important, and kept it to myself. As luck would have it, I already knew about Elizabeth “Kitty” Hyde, Mary Beth Anderson’s best friend.

“You’re lucky, Mr. Roberts, I can begin working the case immediately.”

“Really? You can find her by tomorrow night?”

The look I gave him was intended to make him wet himself. “Only if you’re being honest. You are being honest with me, aren’t you?”

“I’m telling you all I know.”

“All you know, or all you want me to know?”

He stubbed out his cigarette and looked out the window.

I turned in my chair to pull down a blank folder for the Anderson case. “So you have my money?”

He pulled a cashier’s check from his coat. “Ten thousand, your usual fee. I’ll have the rest of it to you tomorrow.”

I took the check, held it to my little desk lamp, squinting. It was Bank of America and ten times my usual fee of a thousand. 

“How did you know my fee?”

“I got your info from Finn.”

Well, that story hadn’t changed. “Tomorrow, eight a.m. sharp.”

He stood, awkwardly holding his hand out to shake.

I stood too and only eyed it. “You have my card, call me if you want an update, but I recommend you wait for my call. And Roberts, eight, not eight thirty, not nine. Eight, forty grand, and if the gods smile upon us you’ll have Mary Beth Anderson by tomorrow night.” 

As he shakily smiled, I silently amended that to dead or alive.

Chapter Two

Whispering Footsteps


 As I did every night I closed up shop at my office though on weekends I didn’t have regular hours. The ESL school down the hall on the opposite corner was just gearing up, and the students waiting were laughing and joking in Spanish.

Given the fact I spoke fairly decent Spanish and had my Hungarian mother’s coloring, most of them assumed I was Mexican. I greeted a few without dispelling the notion and went down to the open air parking lot beneath the building.

My car was an ancient Oldsmobile, an ’86 Cutlass and snow white, the first and only car I’d ever owned. I babied it, kept a spare gun in the trunk with the rest of my tools, and one on the floor. It handled like a refrigerator on a shopping cart chasse but I drove it like second nature, and patted it fondly as I crossed to the driver’s side.

I drove from my office/home in Uptown to the other side of town, Forest Park. I was never quite sure if it was a neighborhood or a suburb, but there was where the Jackrabbit Inn was, the place I went to think. I had told Roberts I could begin work immediately, but we had different definitions of the words.

I parked on the street and walked in, nodding to Steve behind the bar who immediately pulled a Bud and a bottle of Jameson for my shot.

My uncle Buzz sat on the last stool, next to Nick the Elvis impersonator, a fellow regular. I nodded at two young uniforms relaxing after shift at a table and Joanne the ancient waitress still in pink, her platinum hair pulled up as it had been since she began work there in ’58. She was as smoked and aged as the wood interior of the little hole-in-the-wall, but Buzz was wearing her down for a date slowly but surely, and spending his pension on beers to get there.

“Hey kiddo,” my uncle and godfather said from the end of the bar, an ancient man built in straight lines gone soft topped by a white haircut that shared his name, though it was shockingly thick for a 60 year old.

“Hey pops.” I kissed his cheek and sat down as Nick moved over, pulling a twenty for Steve and taking my shot.

“How’s tricks?”

“Interesting new case. Mary Beth Anderson went missing.”

He frowned at that. He was retired with great benefits, a man of leisure who spent most of his free time fishing. When he’d decided to retire last year he’d been a Captain. His body may have been softening, but his mind was sharp as a tack.

“She’s married to some hotshot developer who reads on paper like a lucky idiot.” I sighed. “She’s Sorvino’s only kid.”

“Sorvino?” He signaled for another beer. “Deep shit, kiddo. You wanna stay away from that one. What made her go missing?”

I smiled and took a sip of Bud. “She had an unusual hobby. She collected pretty boys and pimped them out to her friends.”

He coughed. “What the hell? This smells bad, why the hell would you take it?”

“Pays good. Getting fifty grand, got ten today. I swung by the bank and deposited it this afternoon in the overnight box. Gonna be easy to work; I’m pretty sure she’s dead, just a matter of finding the body. 

“And, as luck would have it her best friend is Kitty whose husband Harry hired me to prove Kitty is cheating last week. Tonight is surveillance night. My client on the Anderson case didn’t say Kitty was one of the Johns, but I’m not wasting the chance to see. I think by midnight I’ll have this wrapped up and I’ll be fifty grand richer.”

Buzz frowned and took a pull. “How’d you get the case? Got a new yellow page ad?”

“It says ‘will work for trouble’ in big, bold letters,” I quipped. “Actually, this time it got thrown my way from Finn.”

Buzz smiled at my cringe. “Boy’s got it bad for you.”

“Tell me about it. Every time I go to Purple Rose he’s there, all smiles and charm. I’ve been ignoring him for four years and he still won’t take the hint.” 

He frowned. “Why do you go there? It’s where mobsters go to die.”

I shrugged, having no answer. Old mobsters meant secrecy which meant easy pickups when you didn’t want to earn a reputation, and it also meant a good place to get information. The new owner was so tight on talk I could have fucked Bill Clinton on the dance floor and word wouldn’t get out. Deciding against mentioning this I took a pull of beer. 

“You wouldn’t have happened to run into Finn and mentioned times were lean…would you?” I asked instead. 

He shrugged. “I don’t run with his crowd, haven’t seen him in a hound’s age.”

“Yeah, decorated retired captains and fences don’t mix too well.”

“We may not, but your kind does,” he said and took a long pull, the only man I knew who could out-drink me.

“What do you mean?”

“Look, you had to retire from the force after that mess with Bowers. Hey, hey, I mean no offense, it’s the truth,” he said quietly, glancing at the nearby uniforms. “You had to, and being a PI fell in your lap. Suspicious Finn voluntarily quits soon after and becomes a fence. Cops and fences rarely mix but for a PI, the chances are higher.”

“What’s your point?”

“Why are you so convinced he’s a bad guy?”

“Maybe because I was ready to move in with him, and then I met his wife.”

Again he shrugged, saying more with that gesture than he ever could with words. “Look Marly, he’s divorced, he apologized and he loves you. Why you run from that I’ll never know. Love is a rare thing.”

“Love is for suckers who think life is a script,” I replied smartly, finishing my beer.

“I’m tired of this argument, kid, so I’ll just give you my parting shot: never pass up a chance to use the bathroom or fall in love.”

I just smiled at that and shook my head. “Got your ear to the ground? Heard anything that could help me, a word on Sorvino or any investigations involving Mary Beth Anderson?”

“Nothing I’ve heard. How did the best friend fall into your lap? Kitty you said?”

“Her husband Harry was involved with a case I took last year. His mistress was skimming money from the Javier family. I kept him out of it and so now he needs someone not connected to her family to help out.”

He froze, beer glass hoisted. “Wait, you don’t mean Kitty Hyde, do you?”

I nodded and he slammed the beer down drawing concerned glances. “Fucking hell, Marly, she’s Montgomery’s kid. What the hell are you doing investigating the kids of mafia dons?”

“I gotta pay the rent any way I can.”

He glared for a long moment. “Christ, that’s stupid and sleazy.”

I smiled. “A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.”

“Marly, you’re not a girl, you’re a machine with bad shoes and coke bottle glasses. Why don’t you ever dress up and wear those contacts I got you?” He artfully switched subjects away from mortal danger and into the land of grooming, which made him feel safer. 

I checked my watch and stood, waving Steve off when he motioned refill with raised eyebrows. “Like you said, I’m a machine.”

“So this damned Anderson case…whatcha thinking?”

“I think her lover killed her and hired me as a human shield from her father. Or perhaps one of her friends got tired of being tapped and punched her ticket. Or perhaps she ran up a helluva coke bill and her dealer got sloppy. When I talk to Kitty I’ll narrow the field of suspects.”

“Talk to- wait, you’re watching her. Why talk to her?”

He didn’t know about my proclivities of blackmailing cheating spouses so I just shrugged. Hard to  blackmail somebody without talking to them.

Giving up, he drained his beer and motioned for a new one. “You think Anderson’s dead?”

I was convinced she was, and nodded.

“So what happens when you find out who did it?”

“I’ll sell the rights for revenge to Sorvino.”

He shook his head and took another pull. “No respect for the law. You should turn the killer in.”

“The law treated me like shit, and it doesn’t pay. Crime does, and rather well. And if I call in the cops, Sorvino pays me a visit. I really want to avoid all that.”

“You’re playing with big league fire. Is it worth it?”

I smiled. “When is fifty grand not?”

He gave me a look I’d been getting since childhood; the look of a man who wanted to stop me from diving headlong into danger, and the resignation of a powerless caregiver. I tried not to reflect overmuch and nodded to everyone as I left.

Lighting a cigarette outside I felt I was being watched. I looked up and down Cicero but there was no one standing out. Nervously I patted my gun and climbed in my car, starting it. It was only 7p.m.; I had two hours before show time, and had planned to set up early at the hotel, order in, but now I wanted something else.

For some reason Finn weighed on my mind, and so I turned to the Purple Rose. Even if I couldn’t get a pickup there, at the very least someone might have the 411 for me. I’d make it worth my while, and if this was a perfect world, this trip would get me Mary Beth Anderson’s location.

I was always bound to find something at the Purple Rose.


***


Housed in a warehouse off Lawrence, the bar/social club of the damned was tucked back, the front door on an alley. It had changed back in January with a new owner, Eddie Harwood, a low level mobster who’d made mysteriously good, bought it, and was very slowly bringing it back to its former glory.

Now there was a doorman at the front door during business hours, and the boring name sign had been replaced by a glowing purple rose, no words. He’d redone the interior to update it from the 60’s social club it had been and put in a VIP room in the back I couldn’t afford.

I parked around the corner from the Admiral Strip Club, and paused when I climbed out. Behind it was where my career on the Chicago Police department had died a fitful death. There my then-partner had shot a man, or at least that’s what the evidence and a witness said. 

I’d made the mistake of helping him try to clear his name. We’d needed money, so we did what crooked cops always did, we just did it big. It required help who, of course, had run with the money, then my partner Arthur had disappeared with his wife, and I was standing alone facing theft, racketeering, and conspiracy charges. Being allowed to quit had been a blessing after that debacle.

I forced my feet to move down the alley behind Lawrence and pass the back by. I hadn’t come for a trip down memory lane; I came for sex or information. I was going to walk out with at least one.

The club sat behind a bank of apartments, past  the Admiral and had once been a warehouse used by teamsters in their early days. Now it was a quiet, unassuming club, guarded on all sides by other buildings. You had to be in the know to find it.

Nodding to the doorman, young and muscle bound and new, I stepped inside into a world of polished wood and red leather under slick lights. The music was good for both generations, yet fancy enough to compete with other clubs.

I looked around and the only person the right age to be a potential sport-fuck I saw came as a shock.

Alabaster was an old…friend. We’d grown up in the same neighborhood, gone to the same public schools. He was an inch taller than me at 5’11” and 40lbs lighter, whipcord thin. His skin was so black he didn’t show up in dim photographs and he kept his long braids beneath a hat that matched his colorful suit. He dressed like what he was; a pimp, and he didn’t belong around mobsters.

I strode across the floor, passing by mostly empty tables, and headed for him. The night was young, and he looked as bored as I was anxious.

“Marly Jackson. Let me buy you a drink. Still knocking back that Irish whiskey shit?”

“It kills the liver faster,” I quipped. Alabaster was a snake, but he was good for information every now and again.

“Shot of Jameson for the lady, make it a double, and put it on my tab,” he told the bartender du jour. The new owner rotated them regularly to ensure secrecy for the clientele.

I knocked it back in one go and he just raised an eyebrow. I smiled and slammed the empty glass down, motioning for another. “What can you tell me about Mary Beth Anderson?” No need to pussyfoot around with a snake.

“High class, party girl. Likes a little coke, buys from the best, otherwise clean. Sorvino’s daughter, ya dig?”

I nodded. “She’s a little hard to reach, but I ain’t gonna check his rolodex.”

“Wise girl.”

I shrugged noncommittally. “Any problems you know of? Who’d she buy her drugs off?”

He smiled, his teeth perfectly straight, capped, and white. “Good news is she don’t run in her daddy’s circles, not even her husband. Mary Beth, she’s straight and narrow. As straight and narrow as a freak can get.”

“Freak is a good term.” Women on the straight and narrow weren’t pimps.

“She liked them young boys, legally aged, but awful young for her. Nothin’ wrong with that, but she tried to hustle in on my action, actually put the word out on the street she wanted to hire clean men. She found ‘em, but then she only sold to friends, can you believe that shit?”

“How many people know about that?”

“Only us high-stakes players, course it was over a year ago. I have my ears to the ground but it ain’t common knowledge, and before you ask, I can read you like the funnies, Marly, none of her customers were the type to get violent.”

“You know all of them?”

“I know their type.”

“She’s a mobster’s kid.”

“They respect family lines and don’t associate.”

“Funny, her best friend is Montgomery’s daughter.”

“If it’s the eldest she is as interested in her father’s work as Mary Beth. If it’s the youngest she is just a kid, fresh out of college.”

“All right. Tell me about the drugs.”

“I can give you the name of her dealer, but a woman like that only buys in bulk for parties and pays cash up front.” 

I raised a brow. “She’s a nice woman who buys drugs for parties and charges her friends to get them laid, that it?” Her credit report had no activity and just as Roberts had said there was no activity under her name on any flight manifests, Amtrak, or Greyhound trips. The sex or the drugs seemed a good lead, but I wasn’t liking what I heard.

“She can’t help her daddy is a heavy hitter, she’s on the straight and narrow. People like that barely register on my radar.”

I slammed my next double. “Who’s her dealer?”

“And what are you gonna give me in return, Miss Jackson?”

I toyed with my ice and thought over any tidbits I’d gleaned in the last two weeks. “Word on the street is there’s young blood on your turf, Garcia. He’s got a few Asian girls, you got none, he thinks it means he’s safe.”

“How come I don’t know this?”

“Check up on it, if you like,” I said flippantly as another shot was poured, this time a single, and a coffee was set down next to it. Behind the bartender the owner Eddie Harwood leaned against the office door and nodded to me. 

Alabaster motioned for it to go on his tab, and I saluted Harwood with my shot before knocking it back. I ignored the coffee and turned back to Alabaster. “Now, her dealer?”

“Real high flyer, don’t even work for any local cartels. Don’t know where he gets his shit, New York is best I can narrow it down. Sells to the upper crust. Donald Kensington. Fuck, you believe that name?”

“For a coke dealer? Maybe fifteen years ago.” He seemed like he wanted to say something else. “And?”

He leaned in close. “There was some shit of hers ended up on the streets this weekend.”

“Like what?”

“Guns, and other shiny things.”

My blood went cold at the thought of her jewelry and other expensive things floating around the underworld. “Did Finnegan handle it?”

Alabaster shook his head. “Naw, it was that Indian off Devon.”

I raised my eyebrow considering Devon was known as Little India west of Western. 

“You know, the skinny guy with the gold teeth.”

“The one who buys his stuff from bigger fences and charges too much? Ramesh, yeah, I know him.”

“He’s skipped town. Drive by his place if you don’t believe me, but he ain’t anywhere. It’s a damn shame, my girls use him sometimes when they find something worth selling on a john.”

That made me pause, but he was already looking off, warping his silly putty face as he chewed a toothpick, his way of saying the shop had closed. I mumbled my thanks and left, pausing in the alley.

I called my man Marcus, a guy who did work from me time to time, mostly surveillance. I told him to run Ramesh Gupta down for me, and he promised he’d have it by morning. I liked Marcus; he was a night owl, he was thorough, and he had better electronic toys than I could dream of. I knew nothing more about him other than he never drove the same car twice, and he was terribly efficient, expensive, and worth every penny.

I lit my cigarette and called information. Lucky me, Donald Kensington was listed, and he answered my call. He was in, he knew who I was thanks to a story in the Trib from my biggest case and yes, he sold “party favors” to Anderson. No, he hadn’t heard from her in two weeks, and she owed him nothing. He knew about the young men and the sex club, confirmed she was a pimp, but as far as he knew it was all consensual. 

Ultimately a dead end, but I had a new lead tonight with Ramesh, and I knew Tim was a true pro, and Mary Beth was a pimp. Christ, I thought with disgust, rich people could never fuck normally.

I turned my collar up against the chill wind and started down the alley towards my car. Again I felt like I was being watched. I wasn’t drawing notice from the few dancers smoking behind the strip club, or the kids in the Walgreen’s parking lot across Pulaski, and no one else seemed to be paying attention.

I stepped off the street for cover beneath a streetlamp at the mouth of a drive-through for a new bank. Still I saw no one watching me, nothing even in the windows of nearby apartments.

I turned back to the street and there was a skitter of footsteps heading into the alley across the street that led to the Purple Rose. They sounded too light to be a man. I might have been paranoid that evening, there was no reason to think anyone would be following me, particularly not a woman, but still I ran across scant traffic and headed back to the club.

The doorman was gone, his chair still there, and no one else was in the alley, not even the Admiral dancers. I opened the door and slammed into someone coming out.

“Watch it!” I grumbled and looked up. It was the owner, Eddie Harwood, who just raised his brows. He was good looking, too classic Aryan to be full mafia, but he was tall, solidly built, and his dark hair was thick and falling into his bright eyes. He worked better as a club owner than a Mafioso, all charm and no bite. 

“Marly Jackson.”

“Sorry Eddie. Did somebody just go in?”

He shook his head and lead us back outside. “Aside from you and my new guy Chuck, no. Can I bum one? Chuck had to piss so I said I’d cover the door for him, but I forgot my smokes.”

I passed him my pack and lighter and he did his own honors. He only allowed smoking in the back rooms or outside, though he himself was a fellow chimney. A nice move since many of his customers brought their own oxygen tanks.

“Hey Eddie, what can you tell me about Sorvino’s crew?”

“You’re kidding, right?” I shrugged at that, and he took a long drag. “I used to work for them, running numbers mostly. I started as a kid when Sorvino won the turf war with Delgado and took over the South Loop, but I’m not Sicilian enough and the pay was shit. I still use him for protection, though, and he expects more out of me than money. He’s bad news, stay away.”

“You’re awfully far north to be using the Sicilian for protection.”

“Sorvino saved a few asses when he took out Delgado. This is Montgomery country, but as a thanks Montgomery gave Sorvino the club and the Admiral.”

I smiled at that. “Better the devil you know than the one you don’t. What do you know about the devil’s daughter?”

“She’s a garden party psycho with more plastic parts than Barbie.” That was what I liked about Eddie, he spoke plainly, or at least plain for people like us. 

“So you know about her predilections?”

He laughed. “That rumor about male whores? That’s a fantasy, not a reality. Getting paid to fuck rich chicks? Shit, if that was a career path, I wouldn’t be running this joint.”

I smiled. “What did you mean by garden party psycho? You ever hear of Mary Beth Anderson being a little…kinky?”

“I saw her a couple times at Danny’s, but not in the past three years. She likes drugs, likes a lot of things on the edge, and she always commanded her own private room at Danny’s. She’s insanely private.”

I was shocked; not because Mary Beth had been to the mobile sex club, but because Eddie had. Sometimes it sat in one spot for a single night, sometimes for a few months, but it was always hush-hush, high security, very private. You could fuck, watch, or  both in public rooms. Private rooms cost an arm & a leg. There were themed rooms with whips and chains and all girl baths. 

Eddie always struck me as a straight-up missionary-in-the-dark kind of guy, not a big league sport-fucker. “Well then…” I couldn’t think of a good reply, so I switched subjects. “I heard Ramesh has gone missing, Ramesh Gupta? The fence who shares space with the chop shop on Devon?”

He stilled. “Who told you?” I shrugged at that and he shook his head. “Little birdies like to sing songs. Try another tree, that bird was wrong.”

“Crows often are.”

“Ramesh got picked up Friday, he’s in county. His brother took over the shop but he isn’t taking on new deals, his job is to clear out shop and make bail money.”

“Thanks, nightingale. Have a good one.” I tossed the cigarette butt and turned my collar back up against the wind, turning to head back to Pulaski.

“Marly, who were you looking for when you came swinging in?”

I stopped and turned. “I don’t know, I’ve had this feeling like I’m being watched tonight.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Funny. Nobody came in, but I thought I heard someone walking down the alleyway next to my office.”

“Yeah?”

“Sounded like heels. Expensive ones.”

I smirked. “How can you tell?”

“I like legs, and I know shoes.”

“Hmm. Well, duty calls, gotta run.” I turned back once more.

“Marly?”

“Yeah?”

“Your shoes suck.”

I looked down at my Doc Martens, wondering. “Fuck you, Eddie.”

His laughter followed me to the street, but no eyes seemed to. Expensive heels, hmm.